Technology has shaped the secretary job description, qualifications and the future prospects of employment for these professionals. Computers allow documents to be transmitted electronically and readily available for review. In certain settings, the technology may allow others to assume some of the work traditionally performed by secretaries.
As the below description indicates, the duties, opportunities for certification and forces shaping certain economic sectors can afford job prospects for secretaries.
Job Overview: What Does a Secretary Do?
The secretary job description includes elements of gate-keeper, call screener, document preparer and organizer. In many circles, the secretary is often called an administrative assistant or legal assistant because of the essential role of assisting the professional, manager or executive. In fulfilling the assistant role, secretaries rely on computers, the ability to use equipment, organize and interact with various people inside and outside the organization.
Secretary Job Duties
- Field, transfer and take messages from telephone calls.
- Respond to emails and other messages when directed.
- Type, prepare and edit letters and other documents.
- Schedule and calendar appointments, meetings and other actions.
- Maintain and organize files, databases, records and other information.
- Prepare and send bills and invoices.
The secretary job description can be tailored to particular job settings. For example, legal secretaries prepare and handle documents such as contracts, lawsuit pleadings, subpoenas and court forms. In a medical office, the secretary job description includes transcribing dictated medical reports and articles. Medical secretaries may also obtain simple patient histories, schedule appointments or admissions for patients and bill patients or their insurance companies. School secretaries field parent calls, maintain or organize school records and track late arrivals or early departures of students.
Secretary Essential Skills
Organization. Secretaries must be able to properly categorize, file and track documents in numerous matters or cases. Organization skills also means tracking schedules to avoid overbooking or missing appointments or events. The professionals who rely on secretaries may need a particular file or information and the secretaries must be able to readily and quickly retrieve it.
Communication. Professionals such as physicians, attorneys, managers, executives, and professionals will instruct secretaries on tasks to be performed. Effective communication also means listening to and speaking with clients or others in order to accurately obtain contact information, reasons for contacting the office and availability for appointments or other events. According to O*NET, approximately 91 percent of secretaries use the phone daily in their work.
Computer. Secretaries use word processors to type and edit documents. Skills in word processors, document scanners, databases and other computer applications are also necessary. Approximately 86 percent of secretaries employ emails each day in their jobs.
Writing. The ability to write emails, messages, memoranda and other documents includes a proper understanding and application of grammar and syntax. In a law office, secretaries may need familiarity with rules on citing cases, statutes, and other legal authorities.
Becoming a Secretary
The path to becoming a secretary involves a mix of some education and experience. With employment in particular work settings may come more specialized or extensive education and training. For a complete overview of the topic, we recommend reading the office assistant job description as well.
Qualifications & Training
At a minimum, a secretary should have a high school diploma. Computer, word processing and spreadsheet classes in high school and community college also help secretaries become qualified.
For those seeking to work in law offices or other legal settings, coursework should expose candidates to legal terminology and procedures. Prospective medical secretaries likely will have classes dealing with medical terms and health insurance billing. Executive secretaries, who often work for corporate officers and may have greater responsibilities with staff or preparing documents, likely will need a bachelor’s degree or at least college classes.
Training typically lasts a few weeks in more general office settings, or for multiple months in professional or industry-specific settings.
The work setting helps determine the amount of experience needed. Generally, secretaries in general office settings can qualify by working in smaller offices, handling relatively simple responsibilities. Large employers or those with several offices may seek secretaries with more experience.
Becoming certified, though not a legal requirement, may enhance job prospects for secretaries. Candidates to become Certified Administrative Professionals are required by the International Association of Administrative Professionals to have at least two to four years of administrative work experience, along with passing an examination.
Legal Secretaries International requires at least five years of legal experience for those who seek to become a Certified Legal Secretary Specialists. Candidates who meet the requirements can be certified in areas such as intellectual property, criminal law, estates, civil litigation and business law.
As a general rule, secretaries work full-time, though some employers may use part-time ones.
Secretaries typically work on weekdays. In schools and law offices, secretaries typically have days off for holidays. School secretaries may have multiple weeks for holidays related to Christmas and, except for year-round schools, have several weeks for summer vacation. Law offices tend to be closed on days that courts or government offices are closed.
In most settings, secretaries work daytime hours, such as 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some medical secretaries may have evening or weekend work, as their physicians’ offices attempt to accommodate patients’ schedules.
Job Outlook and Advancement Opportunities
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of secretaries and administrative assistants overall should grow by three percent, or 118,800, by 2024. This is lower than the employment growth rate of seven percent for all occupations.
Declines are projected in the legal secretary field (three percent) and executive secretaries and executive secretary assistants field (six percent). Computer applications, email and other forms of technology allow professionals to prepare and transmit documents themselves, communicate with clients and other parties and perform other functions without the need of secretaries. Paralegals may perform tasks formerly accomplished by legal secretaries.
By contrast, the medical secretaries sector should see a 21-percent rise in employment. Demand for medical services and for secretaries able to handle insurance billing should rise due to an aging population and increased access of patients to health insurance. With the rising numbers of those aged 65 or older will come more patients being eligible for Medicare.
Experience as a secretary can lead to advancement to positions such as office manager or supervisor. In the legal field, secretaries can turn their work experience into becoming paralegals.
Secretaries must be able to track schedules, organize records and information, prepare professional-quality documents and handle the concerns and needs of clients, supervisors, and staff. Computers help secretaries perform these tasks. However, the prevalence of technology may exert pressure on future employment prospects, as computer applications and email can allow managers or professionals to perform these tasks themselves.
Medical secretaries may have the best prospects due to increased access to insurance and the greater need for health care.